ka‘anapali’s history & legends revealed on maui nei native expeditions’ new walking tour

The kumu of Maui Nei Native Expeditions are renowned for delivering authentic cultural experiences on their acclaimed walking tours. Now visitors and locals alike have a unique opportunity to hear fascinating legends and local lore about Hawaiian myths and mysteries of Ka‘anapali on a brand-new two-hour walking tour.

Established in 2001, Maui Nei Native Expeditions is an educational program of Friends of Moku‘ula, a nonprofit cultural organization dedicated to restoring the historic island of Moku‘ula in Lahaina. As a spiritual and political center, Moku‘ula was home to great Maui chiefs since the 16th century, and served as the capital of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i between 1830 and 1845. Maui Nei keeps history and culture alive for Maui’s residents and visitors, sharing Hawai‘i’s traditions, stories, arts, skills, and a sense of place. More than 16,000 guests have experienced a guided Maui Nei walking tour.

Our kumu guide for the ­Ka‘anapali walking tour this morning is Keoki Sousa. Keoki is one of Maui Nei’s first kumu, and has worked continually with the organization since its inception. He thoroughly enjoys sharing his ‘ike (knowledge) and aloha with students, residents, and visitors, entertaining them with his voice and charisma. Keoki is acknowledged as a practitioner of Hawaiian healing traditions, including la‘au lapa‘au (using prayer, medicinal plants and herbs to facilitate healing individuals and their families), lomilomi (hands-on healing), and ho‘oponopono (traditional protocol to restore spiritual and emotional harmony with an extended family).

My friend Glori, her daughter Star, and I meet Keoki under the monkeypod trees in the parking lot of a vacant office building near the Ka‘anapali Royal condo complex. He begins the tour by introducing the Hawaiian concept of “‘o wai kou inoa?” which he says literally means “who is your name?” and figuratively means “who is your family?” “If I know who your family is, I know where you are from,” he says. “And if I know where you’re from, I know the reputation of your people.” Gives new meaning to the phrase “Your reputation precedes you!” Keoki gives each of us an opportunity to share where we are from, and skillfully makes a personal connection with each of us, declaring that we are all members of his ‘ohana “by extension.”

The framework for this tour is a series of historical markers and plaques installed by the Ka‘anapali Beach Resort Association. Our first stop is Pohaku Moemoe, or “Sleeping Stone,” which is more than six feet long, and resembles a reclining human. “The legend surrounding this stone involves the demi-god Maui, whose mother asked him to go up to Haleakala and snare the sun, so that it would move more slowly across the sky, allowing more time for her kapa to dry,” says Keoki. “Maui’s lazy friend Moemoe gave him a hard time about going up the mountain to do that, instead of staying home and relaxing, and in a fit of rage, Maui turned Moemoe into a rock so that he could sleep forever.”

As we walk through the golf greens (with permission), Keoki explains the area was covered in taro during pre-contact time, nourished by Hahakea Stream, which originates high above Ka‘anapali at Pu‘u Kukui, and has two tributaries—one of which empties into the sea near Pu‘u Keka‘a (a.k.a. Black Rock), and the other near the Hyatt.

Next we stop at Keka‘a Landing Pier which, during Maui’s sugarcane era, was the primary loading spot for shipping processed sugar away from the island, as well as receiving supplies for the plantation camps. “The sugarcane fields were connected by a narrow-gauge railroad with moveable tracks,” Keoki says. All that remains today of the pier is an asphalt jetty.

We walk through the Sheraton to the Ka‘anapali Beachwalk, where the next plaque is situated. It commemorates Pu‘u Keka‘a and Chief Kahekili. “Kahekili was a big guy—more than seven feet tall—and he liked to do daring things like lele kawa [jumping off cliffs],” Keoki tells us. “But his warriors wouldn’t follow suit because legend told them if they weren’t of this place, they would not survive the jump, and their spirits would be stuck here forever.”

We stop by a row of naupaka kahakai, also known as “beach naupaka,” characterized by thick, bright green leaves, and small, white flowers with purple streaks. Drawing upon his la‘au lapa‘au knowledge, Keoki tells us the juice of the flower very effectively neutralizes the toxin from insect bites. At an area that’s landscaped with lawa‘i ferns, Keoki explains the traditional medicinal use of that particular plant: “When someone has an upset stomach, you make a tea from the young leaves [those without spores]. The mature leaves with spores are used as a poultice for accelerating the healing of broken bones.”

Did you know that at the beginning of the 20th century a race track stood on Ka‘anapali Beach? We didn’t either! It stretched from where the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel is now, to its southern end at the site of the Westin Resort. Called Koko O Na Moku (Blood of the Islands), it was named after a famous battle lasting four year between two royal brothers who fought in the area to conquer and rule Maui. The race track thrived through the World War I era, but closed down just before the war ended in 1918.

Near the Marriott is a plaque paying tribute to the abundant lo‘i kalo (taro patches) that once thrived here. Hawaiians as a people consider taro to be their older brother, based on the legend of the stillborn first child of Wakea, the sky father, and his daughter Ho‘ohokukalani (daughter to Papa, the earth mother). According to the legend, the dead child was buried and subsequently grew into a taro plant. The second son born to Wakea and Ho‘ohokukalani took human form, and from him the human race descended.

The last stop on the tour is a shady one, where Keoki relates the story of a little boy named Ka‘ili, who was captured near here by warriors from a rival village. His sister, Na‘ilima, witnessed the kidnapping, followed them, and found Ka‘ili tied up by a rock near a sacrificial heiau. Her cries of grief were heard by Pueo, the guardian owl. “Pueo told Na‘ilima she would take care of the situation,” says Keoki. “She untied Ka‘ili, and told him to walk backwards away from the temple to escape, so that in the morning when the warriors said ‘where’s the kid?’ it would appear the footprints led to the stone.” The legend continues with Pueo taking Ka‘ili and Na‘ilima to a cave at Pu‘u Keka‘a, where they hid until the warriors became frustrated and ended their search for the boy.

To conclude the tour, we hop aboard the vivid green, open-air Ka‘anapali Trolley for a welcome ride back to our car.

We found Keoki to be a veritable wealth of information and an extremely entertaining storyteller. The Ka‘anapali History & Legends Tour contained several “aha” moments for the three of us, and we won’t soon forget the insider knowledge gained from this experience.

–heidi pool



Ka‘anapali History & Legends two-hour walking tour, the newest cultural immersion program offered by Maui Nei Native Expeditions. Cost is $46 per person; $23 for keiki 6-12 years old.


Guests meet their kumu (teacher or guide) at a shaded parking lot near the Ka‘anapali Royal condo complex. Parking is free, and directions are given upon booking.


Tours are offered Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday from 8:45 to 10:45am.


Reservations are required: 661-9494; mauinei.com.





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